Caracas, Venezuela – A 1983 Chevrolet C-10 pickup is the workhorse of Argenes Ron’s party equipment rental business. He used it to carry chairs, tents, and tables to gather across Venezuela’s vast capital.
And as the epidemic subsides and business grows, he’s traveling more miles – and traveling more in mechanics, including recent trips to investigate sounds like sniffing from the left rear wheel.
“When mechanics ask for parts – trucks ask you – you have to buy them,” Ron said. “No one can refuse because trucks are an asset to making money.”
He spoke in support of the US Alliance, but said that maintaining some independence was not the answer. I say (older trucks) are more reliable and more reliable because they use nothing but petrol and water. “
People like Ron are increasingly keeping mechanics busy on street corners in Caracas these days as they try to free up a little more life from aging vehicles in a country whose new car market has collapsed and where very few people can do business for a well-used car.
The Venezuelan automotive industry produced only eight trucks last year – and a single car – according to the Venezuelan Chamber of Venezuelan Manufacturers of Automotive Products. At the turn of the century, in 2006-2007, about 172,000 cars came out of the plant, driven by Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and others.
Import did not fill the gap. In 2021, only 1,886 new light vehicles were sold in Venezuela, according to estimates by LMC Automotive, an auto industry consultancy. That was almost double the number in 2020, but less than 1% of what was sold in 2007, when new light car sales peaked at 437,675.
Venezuela lifted ban on used car imports in 2019. But over the years, hyperinflation has wiped out the majority of the middle class who once dreamed of at least one used car, with an average monthly salary of less than $ 100. That inflation combined with government control meant that banks were reluctant or unable to provide car loans.
So people cling to what they have. Eduardo Ayala, like the 1999 Nissan Center, which underwent mechanical surgery in a working class shop in West Caracas.
“It’s not that I chose that car, it was that I had money for that car,” Ayala said. “I’d like to buy a (Suzuki) Grand Vitara, at least a 2005, (but) you need to adjust your economy as much as possible.”
Elvis Hernandez finds the problem that stuck Ayla on the freeway the day before: a month old off-brand ignition distributor failed.
“Most people don’t have the money to buy a car – that’s the truth. So they like to repair what they have, “said Hernandez. Around him, fellow passengers worked in other cars, all at least a decade old.
Venezuela’s roads are full of high-mileage, money-sucking vehicles, many of which preceded the socialist transformation introduced by the late President Hugo Chavez at the turn of the century.
Traveling to work in the morning, a short trip to the grocery store or a 14-mile drive to the beach is all about seeing a car parked with someone tinkering under the hood.
Venezuela – one of the world’s largest crude oil reserves – was once the richest middle class in Latin America and car dealerships have grown.
But a complex social, economic and humanitarian crisis erupted in the mid-2010s, exacerbated by falling oil prices, US economic sanctions on the government and – critics say – economic mismanagement.
In 2020, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, about nine out of 10 households that were once ranked as middle class fell into the category of the poor. By one measure, the monthly income of a one-time middle-class household dropped from $ 830 per month in 2012 to $ 195 in 2020.
Many spacious dealerships that once supplied them still carry their logos, but are now sitting idle or in another business. Those who are open in the capital target the upper class. There are three red cars on the floor of a Ferrari dealership, each costing more than $ 400,000.
Some Venezuelans have turned to YouTube for instructions on how to fix their own cars.
Somewhere in Caracas there is a Honda Civic where a PVC pipe acts as a hose and a piece of wood holds the battery in place. After the weekend break, it crashed into the freeway, trapping four swimmers and forcing them to repair their sand-dust as they continued to sweat.
Others can still scrap money together to hire specialists of different degrees.
Dozens of mechanics work on the sidewalk where Ron, owner of a equipment rental business, repairs his truck, leaving their equipment hidden in a nearby building or other hideout.
Anderson Ramirez, who specializes in brake systems, says some people have stopped repairing for so long that they show up with broken brake pads and severely damaged discs.
He said some car owners can fix damaged rear brakes but “they turn off the front brakes because their budget is not enough,” he said. “And, well, we talk to them. We talk about labor costs because … if he doesn’t do the job, we can’t earn anything.”